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Used BMW Z4 review: 2003-2006

In BMW terms the Z3 sports roadster was an eminently forgettable car. For a company that almost without fail builds great looking cars that go as good as they look, the Z3 missed the mark by quiet a margin. It looked bland, lacked performance and just failed to ignite the market as it should have, after all if anyone could produce a great sports car it should be BMW.

Even when BMW started to crank up the Z3's performance with larger, six-cylinder engines it was still hampered by its plain-Jane looks. There were no such issues with the Z4 when it hit the market in 2003. No one could say the Z4 looks were bland, nor could they complain about its performance, the Z4 was the sports car BMW should have released when launching the Z3.


The Z4 was everything the Z3 wasn't. It looked good, went hard and had the sort of road presence BMW owners expect of their brand. Where the Z3's lines were soft, its proportions plump, the Z4 had sharp lines that carved out a distinctive shape, and its proportions were tight.

If the Z3 seemed tired from the get-go, the Z4 appeared poised to pounce. Viewed from any angle most people thought the Z4 looked great, but it was also challenging to some eyes and it did come in for some criticism for being a little too out-there. But six years on from its launch it hasn't lost any of its visual appeal, and even those who thought it too adventurous at first are more accepting of its shape. Fortunately when it came time to replace the Z4 BMW's engineers didn't bother with a four-banger engine like they did with the Z3.

This time round they went straight to the six-cylinder and offered two versions of their silky smooth straight six. The entry engine was a 2.5-litre double overhead camshaft unit that delivered 141 kW at 6000 revs and 245 Nm at 3500 revs. When asked for its best the 2.5-litre Z4 roadster would race to 100 km/h in seven seconds, and rush on to a top speed of 235 km/h. The other option was a 3.0-litre six that boasted 170 kW at 5900 revs and 300 Nm at 3500 revs. It would race from rest to 100 km/h in less than six seconds and had a top speed of 250 km/h.

If you chose the smaller engine there was a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed sequential shift auto 'box, but if you opted for the larger engine you got to choose from a six-speed manual and a five-speed DSG auto 'box. Once processed through the gearbox the drive was directed rearwards as it is on the best of BMWs.

Independent suspension - struts at the front and multilink at the rear - powerful four-wheel disc brakes, and for the first time adjustable electric power steering, together with a very stiff body and 50:50 weight distribution ensured the chassis had great road holding and response. Overlaid on that was an awesome array of electronic aids to help keep it safely on the straight and narrow.

Dynamic Drive Control altered the engine calibration to enhance the response when desired, and Dynamic Stability Control with traction control allowed some wheel slip to add to the thrill of the drive without letting things get out of hand; they were just a couple of the electronic aids the Z4 boasted.

BMW only offered the Z4 as an open top roadster in those early days, but the top was a clever piece of work that could be raised or lowered quickly, and once lowered the front part of the roof formed a neat tonneau cover. The Z4 lacked little in terms of standard features. It came with climate-controlled air, leather, power seats with memory on the driver's side, trip computer, CD sound, and cruise.


Most BMWs are well serviced in the first phase of their lives, which is where the Z4 is now. For the most part first owners have their cars regularly serviced by a factory dealer, and spend what money is needed to keep them running at their peak. It's when they pass on to the second owners that servicing tends to fall away a little.

Servicing is important. Regular oil and filter changes are the keys to keeping the engine alive and well. If dealer servicing proves too expensive, and it can, then look for an experienced BMW service specialist to look after your car. There are plenty around and they will charge substantially less than the factory dealers with no less quality of service. They are also likely to be able to source less expensive parts when needed.


The Z4 came with a comprehensive safety package, including dual front airbags, side airbags, rollover protection and seat belt pretensioners. Before the impact the Z4 driver could count on its anti-lock ABS braking, dynamics stability control and traction control to escape from potentially dangerous situations.


Quite obviously the fuel economy of the Z4 is largely determined by the way it is driven. Driven with a deft right foot it will return 9.5-11.0 L/100 km, but when driven with a lead foot it will go out to 11-13 L/100 km.

* Striking styling
* Silky smooth engines
* Exhilarating performance
* Great road holding
* Badge cred
* Well-equipped


Its looks can be challenging, but there's no doubting the Z4's performance or exhilarating road manners.

RATING: 85/100


Year Price From Price To
2006 $8,400 $22,990
2005 $8,400 $15,620
2004 $8,400 $15,620
2003 $8,400 $15,620

View all BMW Z Models pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

Z4 2.5I 2.5L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $8,400 – 13,090 2003 BMW Z Models 2003 Z4 2.5I Pricing and Specs
Z4 3.0I 3.0L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $10,600 – 15,620 2003 BMW Z Models 2003 Z4 3.0I Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist


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